The Rise and Fall of Merry England explores the religious and secular rituals which marked the passage of the year in late medieval and early modern England, and tells the story of how they altered over time in response to political, religious, and social changes. Ronald Hutton examines a number of important and controversial issues, such as the character and pace of the English Reformation, the nature of the early Stuart 'Reformation of Manners', the context of writers like Ben Jonson and Robert Herrick, the origins of the science of folklore, the relevance of cultural divisions to the English Civil War, the impact of the English Revolution, and the viability of economic explanations for social change.
Never before has such a comprehensive study of the subject been undertaken, and it has been made possible by using categories of source material, notably local financial records, in a quantity never attempted hitherto. This is a highly readable and entertaining book which, in both research and interpretation, breaks several frontiers.
wide-ranging and creative book ... Well-written and accessible, the book explores many aspects of popular religion, culture, and social history. Hutton's original research provides fascinating material on such topics as ritual feast and fasting, the Lords of Misrule, Christmas carols, and the meanings of certain celebrations such as Valentine's Day and May Day ... a book of tremendous breadth and imagination, well worth reading for scholars of many
specialties. * Carole Levin, SUNY, New Paltz, The Historian * researched on a massive scale but written elegantly and succintly...the effects of his strokes are sometimes spectacular. Impressive and valuable... * The Bulletin * 'This book is a minute exploration of the various rituals which marked the seasons in medieval England... this is a scholarly book, the fruit of more than 10 years of patient research, much of it in parish accounts ... an admirable book, and excellent value.'
John Joliffe, Country Life 'Hutton's study is markedly original ... he makes a major empirical contribution to the study of these matters by employing a massive sample of churchwardens' accounts from all over England ... Hutton sustains a consistently rich discussion, which has many telling points to make about the course and explanation of change ... There is much to admire here, in the originality of Hutton's findings and arguments, in the sharpness of his critical assessments of much
recent literature relevant to his theme, and in the generally even-handed and courteous tone of the discussion. The book is illuminating, entertaining and, like any significant reappraisal, provocative.'
Times Literary Supplement `this is a scholarly book, the fruit of more than 10 years of patient research ... It is an admirable book, and excellent value'
Country Life `a solid but readable survey of seasonal celebrations and traditions in a historical context looking at the way they altered with political, religious and social change'
Darlington & Stockton Times `This is a thoughtful, ground-breaking study.'
Rosanna de Lisle, Independent on Sunday 'fascinating study ... Hutton's study is engagingly frank about the limitations of evidence, and adept at weighing the probabilities when it is not conclusive. Through areas of the greatest controversy, he moves respectfully and critically, eschewing simplicities, lucidly summarising and adding incisive suggestions of his own.'
Kevin Sharpe, Independent 'a deeply fascinating and important book'
Diarmaid MacCulloch, New Statesman & Society 'This is an outstanding book, original and provocative, vigorously and courteously argued, and written with a vivid sense of the immediacy of the past - of Merry England's jollity as well as its pathos. It is one of the finest books on early modern England to have appeared in the last decade.'
John Adamson, The Times 'This is a book of rare quality ... Ranging over three centuries, and the fruit of research on the most massive scale ... Elegantly written, unfailingly courteous in tone and the product of prodigious learning.'
John Adamson, Sunday Telegraph 'Ronald Hutton's The Rise and Fall of Merry England is by far the most impressive and fascinating work of historical scholarship in this field to have appeared since Keith Thomas's book came out a generation ago. The range of issues covered ... is huge, the organisation of argument and material is lucid and compact and the sheer quantity of sources investigated is quite breathtaking.'
Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph `Hutton has written a scholarly text that convinces and delights through his masterly deployment of illustrative detail.'
The Observer `a jewel of a subject ... Hutton's book thrums with academic controversy'
Observer `Ronald Hutton makes fellow-historians whistle with envy, jealousy and admiration ... repeatedly, Hutton courteously undermines his colleagues' confident generalisations with his piles of evidence ... a deeply fascinating and important book.'
New Statesman & Society `by far the most impressive and fascinating work of historical scholarship in this field ... the sheer quantity of sources is breathtaking ... fascinating book'